What better play setting for Latinx playwright John Guerra than his very own “Our Town,” the real small town of Fillmore in Southern County’s Ventura County? But Guerra’s Fillmore is a modern version of life in California which tackles some thorny questions too often ignored by SoCal writers. Fillmore is no Hollywood or tourist mecca. It is a down-to-earth piece of real estate populated by salt-of-the-soil folks with hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. And also people who face the same kind of problems and issues that we have all encountered in one form or another. In other words, people that will remind each of us of home.
Set between 2005 and 2009, THE LAST, BEST SMALL TOWN follows the lives of two local families. Hank Miller (Christopher Wallinger) is the editor of the local newspaper. He and his stay-at-home wife Willow (Christine Breihan) live just next door to Benny and Della Gonzalez (Richard Azurdia and Katia Gomez), a Mexican-American couple who want to live the “American Dream” they see just past the white picket fence surrounding the Miller residence. While Benny hops on the bus every morning to get to work as an auto mechanic, Della works as a maid at the local hotel – but they know that their dreams can come true someday.
As luck would have it, both families have kids. The Millers are proud of their military son, currently serving in Afghanistan, and their daughter Maya (Jordan Tyler Kessler), who is an ornery teenager on the cusp of graduating from high school and going to college. The Gonzalez family have only one child, Elliot (Kelvin Morales). It just so happens that Elliot is best friends with the Miller’s son. And maybe he is just a little attracted to Maya, the Miller’s daughter. But regardless of Elliot’s goals, Benny and Della Gonzalez have big plans for Elliot. There are lots of dreams they have pinned on their only son. They know without a doubt that he will be the first person ever in their family to graduate from college and go on to do great things.
At this point, playwright Guerra’s script takes a turn as some very practical considerations enter the equation. Will society approve of a relationship between a stolidly middle class white female and a decidedly brown lower class male? Is there room in the American Dream for this conundrum? Will love conquer all?
Directed by Ellen Geer, John Guerra’s world premiere play, THE LAST, BEST SMALL TOWN, is a gem waiting for an audience to treasure it. Beautifully written and dealing with some controversial topics, this is a play to both entertain and generate thought – especially at this moment in history when many older ideas and beliefs are being questioned and even overturned. The casting couldn’t be better as each of the characters breathes life into the role. From narrator Leandro Cano to the adult couples trapped within their invisible racial confines to the children who begin to realize that perhaps the world can no longer promise them a better life than their parents had – each has a special message which will resonate with audiences. Possibly the only shortfall in the play is an ending which may not fully satisfy the viewer and seems to go on its own secret journey.
Kudos to the creative team, including Zach Moore’s lighting, Grand Escandon’s sound, and Beth Eslick’s costumes. This is a very professional and realistic production which is thought-provoking while remaining involving and entertaining.
THE LAST, BEST SMALL TOWN runs through 11/6/21, with performances on Fridays at 8 p.m. (8/27/21, 10/1/21, and 10/29/21); on Saturdays at 4 p.m. (10/9/21 and 11/6/21) and at 7:30 p.m. (7/31/21, 8/7/21, 8/28/21, 10/23/21); and on Sundays at 7:30 p.m. (8/22/21, 10/3/21, 10/17/21, and 10/31/21). Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $26 to $60 with discounts for seniors, students, military veterans, teachers, AEA members, and children from 5 to 15. Four Pay-What-You-Will performances are scheduled for Sunday 8/22/21 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, 9/25/21 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday 10/3/21 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday 10/31/21 at 4 p.m. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.